What with the brutal suppression of student riots in Hong Kong, the beatings and imprisonment of anti-Mullah demonstrators in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, the imprisonment and execution of Christian converts or those accused of blasphemy in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the transformation of the whole of China into one vast panopticon prison and of its Uyghur province into its punishment wing by the Beijing government, and many other violations of human rights and civilized behavior, the world is going to hell in a handcart at an accelerating speed.
Spare a thought, therefore, for the current and future difficulties these unfortunate trends pose for Western diplomats. They have to express the disquiet of their own governments at these outrages in a way that will not risk their country’s profitable trade relations or military bases or the inward flow of investment capital on which our own economies increasingly depend. If they do nothing, that will outrage the NGOs concerned about human rights. If they do or even say something that displeases the government that had been quietly and inoffensively oppressing its subjects in the dark, that will alarm Wall Street and the pension funds.
Composing a diplomatic protest that will comfort all these interested parties without committing one’s own government to anything likely to upset the smallest applecart is a skill requiring knowledge of other political cultures, a grasp of economic realities, a talent for hypocrisy, and a deft pen. As it happens, I was recently having a coffee with a friend, someone very knowledgeable about international relations, who had lived many years in Asia. We were discussing the situation in Hong Kong and wondering how to square a particular circle. Since the British government would ideally prefer not to react at all, how might it react most usefully? He thought for a moment, and then he wrote this:
Her Majesty’s Government is deeply concerned over recent events in Hong Kong and deplores the recourse to violence. HMG considers the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s decision in June to allow the extradition of Hong Kong residents to the Mainland to face trial to be the source of the current difficulties between the Mainland and Hong Kong. We consider that this somewhat capricious decision contravened the “one country, two systems” model that the People’s Republic of China and the United Kingdom had so carefully negotiated in 1997. HMG thus feels that the most propitious way to assuage the passions that currently disrupt the stability of Hong Kong life would be for the PRC to reassert its commitment to uphold both the spirit and the letter of the 1997 agreement. HMG would be happy to help in whatever way it can to facilitate a return to the status quo ante of the Two Systems model that has proved so successful and mutually beneficial over more than two decades. Order and harmony in Hong Kong are in the enlightened interests of both countries. We stand ready to offer whatever aid we can to resolve this unfortunate situation.
There we are. Problem solved. Now we can go back to sleep.